Complete Guide to Maintaining and Cleaning Tattoo Machines

tattoo machine

Working as a professional tattoo artist involves many things. Before your work area is ready, you must sterilize everything, but cleaning and maintaining your machines is also crucial. Why do you have to clean sterilized instruments?

CDC recommends cleaning all instruments and machines to remove all inorganic or organic debris. If you sterilize with debris present, you will compromise the sterilization process. In other words, you won’t sterilize your machines properly, which could cause various issues.

This guide explains the whole process of cleaning and sterilizing tattoo machines thoroughly to ensure their safe and long lifespan. Let’s start.

Properly disassembling a tattoo machine

tattoo machine

Disassembling a tattoo machine is crucial for cleaning and maintaining it properly. Here are the steps to dismantling most tattoo machines:

  1. Undo the screw on the contact post and the screws on the coils.
  2. Remove the coils.
  3. Remove the remaining screws.
  4. Remove the drive mechanism.
  5. Separate the frame from the other pieces.

Disassembling a tattoo machine takes about two minutes, and it’s not complicated. Don’t rush things and take off every part one by one. Follow the correct order to prevent causing any damage. At the same time, make sure to cut off your machine from the power supply, so it doesn’t turn on accidentally.

Place all the parts, screws, and assemblies gently on a cloth to avoid scratching or damaging parts. Tattoo machines generally have robust materials and can handle a lot of wear and tear, but it’s always a good idea to be safe.

Cleaning the tattoo machine

Before cleaning your tattoo machine, check if you turned it off and unplugged it from the electrical socket.

Always apply the cleaning product on the cloth you’re using. Never use a spray solution directly on the machine; you will leave it wet and won’t be able to clean it properly.

Always disassemble the machine before you start cleaning, and use sterile medical gloves to ensure you don’t leave any residue while cleaning. It’s generally a good idea to clean your machine after each use.

Cleaning the handle

There are several ways you can clean the grip. You can do it manually using a cleaning cloth sprayed with a cleaning agent or disinfectant. Rotate the grip around the cloth to reach all the crevices and dirty areas inside. You can also use a wet cotton swab or a pipe cleaner.

You can place the grip in an autoclave to sterilize it, but don’t keep it longer than 20 minutes with temperatures around 121°C. Make sure to dry the grip thoroughly after sterilizing it in an autoclave.

If your grip is very contaminated, you can use an ultrasonic bath to clean it. The pH value shouldn’t exceed 7, and the cleaning process shouldn’t be longer than ten minutes. Set the cleaning frequency at 35 kHz and dry the grip after cleaning.

Cleaning the cables

The power cable often gets dirty, bringing even more dust into the machine. It’s essential to wipe the power cable thoroughly with a soft wet cloth sprayed with a disinfectant.

All the power cables are insulated, so don’t worry about being shocked. Still make sure to unplug it first.

Cleaning the O-rings

O-rings give you the grip you need to draw precise lines. If your grip rotates too smoothly and the needle moves uncontrollably, you might have to clean the O-rings. Put disinfectant, spray, or detergent on a soft cloth and clean the O-rings thoroughly.

If you still have the same problem, it might be time to replace the O-rings. When placing new O-rings, add a bit of silicone grease if necessary.

Cleaning the accessories and other machine parts

When you unscrew all the parts and remove the drive and handle, you can easily wipe all the dirty areas.

Use a soft cloth with a disinfectant or detergent. Clean all surfaces that are harder to reach, like the inside of the drive motor, gently with a cotton swab or a nylon brush. Remove the O-rings so you can access the grooves underneath. Also, consider using a toothbrush to clean sensitive areas.

How to sterilize a tattoo machine

Tattoo machines pierce human bodies directly to apply ink underneath the skin. This process involves ink, blood, sweat, needles, and various products. That means that tattoo artists must work in a sterile environment to ensure their customers don’t go through any complications.

The first step when sterilizing a tattoo machine is to clean all your equipment beforehand. If bodily fluid, ink, or other substances are on your equipment, you can’t sterilize it successfully.

Your tattoo machine isn’t disposable, and you will use it hundreds of times before replacing it. That is why it’s crucial to sterilize it properly.

Even though there are multiple options for sterilizing tattoo equipment, the only sterile option is the autoclave.

Sterilizing tattoo equipment in an autoclave

An autoclave offers the right combination of pressure and temperature to sterilize tattoo equipment effectively. It is the most popular machine because it gives excellent sterilization results regardless of the equipment.

This machine heats all the objects inside it past the water’s boiling point. As a result, it kills all the viruses and bacteria on the tattoo machine. Before putting equipment into an autoclave, put it into sterilization bags.

Here are some additional tips for the process:

  • Don’t open the autoclave, and remove the trays immediately after finishing the process. Give it time to cool off.
  • Test your autoclave at least once per month with a spore test.
  • Check if the tattoo machine and accessories are suitable for an autoclave.
  • Always clean the autoclave before sterilization to get effective results and avoid accidents with burned waxes, oils, or other residues.

Reassembling the tattoo machine

Here are all the steps you need to reassemble the tattoo machine:

  1. Connect the whole frame and screw all the pieces together.
  2. Put together the armature bar, the contract screw, and the binding post.
  3. Put the coil cables in their place.
  4. Put the coils into the frame.
  5. Screw the coils and place the O-rings in their places.
  6. Screw your washers.
  7. Screw the armature bar and the binding post and align them with the tube clamp.
  8. Add the needle.

Here are some additional adjustments you can make.

Voltage (power)

After reassembling your tattoo machine, it’s always a good idea to tune it according to your needs. The first setting you should adjust is the voltage. Voltage determines how much power will go through the machine. The more voltage it has, the stronger the needle will be.

Cycles per second (needle speed)

The second setting to adjust is the CPS or “Hertz” on the power supply. CPS determines the number of times the needle goes up and down per second. If you move the contact screw closer to the front spring, you increase the CPS.


“Duty” refers to how long the needle is within the skin. Ideally, the duty should be 50 because it’s spending half the time out of the skin and half the time applying ink. You can adjust your duty by swinging the armature bar and bending the back springs.

How to ensure complete sanitization and prevent cross-infection

tattoo machine|ai-tenitas

Many tattoo artists work in the field and don’t have the luxury of carrying an autoclave or any other sterilization machine. That is especially true for artists who use wireless tattoo machines.

Luckily, we are seeing improvements in sterilization technology with brand-new Sterilization Boxes that let you sterilize equipment in the field with a 99.99% sterilization rate. The Ai-tenitas sterilization box works with all brands and models of tattoo machines, meaning that artists can always sterilize their equipment with six UV lamps in less than ten minutes.

You never know when to sterilize your device and prevent cross-infection. This brand-new compact solution allows you to do it anytime, anywhere, without juggling between customer service and health.

Storing your tattoo machine properly

Properly storing your tattoo machine is a part of maintenance that ensures no damage or contamination. Just because you aren’t using it doesn’t mean it can’t get contaminated.

Germs and bacteria float in the air and travel from one place to another. At the same time, people, after transmitting various microorganisms and if they walk near your equipment, can quickly disperse bacteria on it. Furthermore, you don’t want dust falling on your equipment because that would make it unsafe for subsequent use.

Correctly storing a tattoo machine means keeping it in its original box. Put it away from any air or humidity. Ideally, a vacuum away from direct sunlight should do the trick because warm temperatures and a damp environment generate bacteria.


This guide provides everything you need to know about keeping your tattoo machines clean and safe. If you follow these steps, there’s no need to worry about hurting someone or causing medical issues. Keeping your equipment clean is crucial and shows people you take your job seriously and want to do some fantastic work on their skin while ensuring they remain healthy.